By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Commonwealth Observer Group on Friday called for the establishment of an independent election management body with modern voting and counting systems to "safeguard" the country's "democratic history".
In its initial assessment of the 2017 general elections, the international group of observers prescribed that the creation of such a unit could address several issues which dog the country's election process.
Of those ailments put forth by the group, the balance in air time allotted to political organisations by the Broadcast Corporation of the Bahamas was highlighted as "disproportionate".
Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Hannah Tetteh, facilitated the report.
The five-page document noted that while social media platforms provided a level playing field for national dialogue, the state-run broadcast corporation did not offer equal air time to all the political parties and candidates.
She added that there was an obvious slant to the slate of incumbent candidates - the Christie administration.
The critique of the country's media added: "Notwithstanding these views that were expressed to the Group, it is our impression that the Utilities Regulations and Competitions Authority (URCA) did a commendable job in developing a Code of Practice for Content Regulation. We encourage URCA in its ongoing efforts to enable a more robust regulatory framework for public media institutions which also assures the freedoms and rights of citizens.
"Similarly, a forward-thinking election management body undertakes extensive voter education, encouraging responsible use of social media, while protecting the rights of citizens to vigorously debate social and political issues online."
The Commonwealth report also called into question the electoral framework managed by the Parliamentary Registration Department.
The observer group raised issue with how the tenure of former Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall was handled amidst an ongoing election cycle.
Mr Hall's contract expired aday after advanced polls and six days before general polling. Charles Albury was named acting Parliamentary Commissioner on May 5.
The Commonwealth group said the circumstances surrounding this were "highly unusual", adding that the overall process introduced "anxiety into a charged electoral environment".
The report continued with regard to advance voting: "The team noted that although the actual voting inside the polling station was generally well conducted and concluded in a peaceful manner, it was the management of the operational and logistical aspects of the process that was of significant concern. We were alarmed by the open campaigning and loud music prevailing in and around the advanced polling station at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium."
It continued: "When the former Prime Minister arrived to vote, the rush of the chanting crowd from supporters of the two main political parties on the barriers placed before the actual polling station was unfortunate. Such occurrences have no place in a neutral and safe voting environment. The Police must be commended for responding appropriately to manage the crowd."
The observer group also insisted that the "loose interpretation" of the law with respect to party agents being allowed to vote on the advanced polling day overwhelmed the system.
The report added: "It was evident the Parliamentary Registration Department used the experience of advanced polling day to ensure some of these issues did not resurface on 10 May. We commend the Acting Parliamentary Commissioner in this regard."
Of law enforcement, the observation group added reagrding the Police and their understanding of their role to facilitate a smooth election process, "We were impressed with the high level of technological preparedness of the police force and the manner in which they had considered every single aspect of the electoral process that could be supported by the police. It is a model of best practice that ought to be recommended across the Commonwealth. This Observer Group intends to do just that."
The observer group also noted and commended the increase in women candidates involved in the electoral process.
Of the issue, the report said: "The overwhelming representation of women working as electoral officers and party agents was obvious. We commend the spirit of youth which we observed in the campaign and number of youth candidates. We heartily congratulate young persons who successfully contested seats in the elections. You are Commonwealth role models and we commend your active participation in Commonwealth forums and spaces."
The Commonwealth group was one of four observation groups invited to the country by the Bahamian government - the US Embassy deployed 30 observers to more than 100 polling stations in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera on May 10 and the CARICOM team visited 223 polling stations across 20 constituencies.
The Organisation of American States (OAS) deployed a team of 11 international observers, which included specialists in electoral organisation, electoral technology, campaign finance, constituency boundaries, gender and political analysis.